Choosing the Right Contractor for Your Home Renovation

Where to look, what to look for, and everything you'll need from your contractor

Why does finding the right contractor always feel like the hardest part of a home renovation? Trying to find a professional who’s reliable and experienced, who really understands your vision, AND who you feel comfortable welcoming into your home — the process can be overwhelming. You have a lot of questions, so we’ve got some answers for you. Here’s what you should know when choosing the right contractor for your home renovation.

general contractor

Finding a Licensed Contractor

Starting with a Google search for a General Contractor in a specific locale can return 30+ million results! If you weren’t already overwhelmed with the complexities of starting a renovation, the sheer number of options is likely to leave you wondering what to do next. Instead, talk to friends, family, or colleagues who also live in the area about their experiences and ask if they’d be willing to let you see the contractor’s work first-hand. Also, be on the lookout for lawn signs in your neighborhood for recently completed renovation projects, and join local Facebook Groups for remodeling/redecorating or a community network to connect with other homeowners in your area.

How Do I Pick the Right General Contractor for my Project?

To make sure you choose the right general contractor for you, here are some tips:

Choose Your Renovation Must-Haves

Before anything else, decide which upgrades you want and which upgrades you need. Those luxe marble countertops would be nice, but not at the cost of the additional half bath your family needs. Once you have a clear vision of what you want your project to look-like, it will help steer you toward the right contractor for all your project goals and a quote that you’re happy with - which may even include all those wish-list items!

Ask Friends & Coworkers for Recommendations

Start by making a list of 10-15 contractors in your area. This list should be based on recommendations from friends, family, and coworkers - who not only know a contractor, but have actually used them in the past. Ask them specifically about their experience working with the contractor. For example, did the contractor come in on budget and on schedule? How often did the contractor communicate with you and how easy/difficult was it for you to reach out and contact them directly? Check out online reviews to see what others are saying about their work and the experience they had, and reach out to other homeowners on social media to help narrow down this list.

Check Out Their Portfolios

You want to choose a contractor that specializes in the specific needs of your project. For example, someone with a long list of bathroom remodels, may not be the best choice for your kitchen renovation. Qualified general contractors will make it easy to reach out to them and see their work. Request information of their completed projects over the past year, including photos, blueprints, sketches and other visuals to get the best understanding of how they approach a project.

Keep in mind that a contractor’s portfolio will usually showcase their best work, so if the project list is really short or there’s more than one project that doesn’t meet your standards, take them off your list.

Interview Your Top Contractor Candidates

Schedule a couple of interviews to meet with your top candidates. You will be communicating with this person on a daily basis for many weeks, so meeting them face-to-face is the best way to see if you jive. Would you feel comfortable with this person in your home? Are they communicating clearly with you? Will they be compassionate about your concerns and answer your questions?

Other things you’ll want to know about your contractor is if they’re licensed (remember this is super important!), do they guarantee their work, how long they’ve worked with their subcontractors, and how many other projects they will have at the same time as yours. Prepare a list of questions for your interview based on issues friends may have experienced with their contractors, so you can get the most out of it.

See The Finished Products First-Hand

In addition to friends and family who may have recommended a certain contractor, ask for additional references so you have more opportunities to see projects similar to yours first-hand. During your visit, pay attention to the details and ask if the owner’s have needed servicing or repairs since. Choose a project or two that’s dated at least 2-3 years, so you can see how everything has held up.

Choosing the right contractor or contracting company doesn’t have to be stressful because you don’t have to do it alone. RenoFi is here to help with our network of awesome contractor partners in your area, plus helpful tips from the minute you begin your search to the day construction begins. And if you don’t already know, our renovation home equity loans are the smartest way for homeowners like you to finance their project. With an after-renovation value boost, no tedious draws or inspections, and the lowest rates possible, it can help you get everything on your wish list and more.

Ok, so when you do find a contractor you like and trust, what’s next?

Getting What You Need from Your General Contractor

No two contracts or proposals are exactly the same, but there is some specific information independent contractor or company should include not only for your loan application, but to also ensure you’re both on the same page from day one. Here’s what you should be looking for.

The Contract

Whether you’re following our Home Equity Loan Checklist for items necessary to apply or you’re just trying to cover all the bases of your relationship with your contractor, here’s what you should ask your GC to include from the get-go:

  • Contact Information: Company name, phone number, website, email, and direct contact info of whoever is managing the renovation. Know who you’ll be calling with any questions along the way.
  • Change Order Procedures: Find out exactly what your contractor constitutes as a change order, and what happens if something out of scope is required during the construction.
  • Clear Construction Timelines: Projected completion date is just the start; What days of the week will the contractor or subcontractors be working? What time will construction start and stop each day?
  • Payment by Progress Breakdown: Request a clear and fair payment breakdown based on the project’s progress. Project complexity and size will play a role, but RenoFi recommends: 1) No more than 15% up front, 2) Ideally, no one payment is more than 20% of the overall budget, and 3) Try to hold back at least 10% for the punch list at the end.
  • Guarantee or Warranty: Your contractor should have a warranty on their work, telling you how long you are covered for, what the contractor agrees to fix if something breaks, and the timeframe for returning to make the repair.

The Budget/Project Proposal

The larger the size and scope of your proposed renovation, the higher the level of detail and professionalism that should be included in the budget or project proposal. But here are the standard requirements:

  1. Itemized breakdown of all materials. A few examples include:\
    • Sq. ft. of the space to be renovated\
    • Sq. ft. of each flooring to be installed\
    • Linear sq. ft. of roofing to be repaired/replaced\
    • Level/Grade of countertops to be installed
  2. Itemized breakdown of labor: This can be grouped with the materials, but it should be very detailed. What will you need to supply? Who is obtaining the required permits? Etc.
  3. Architect/Engineer Plans (if applicable): Typically for more complex renovations involving structural changes or for any project where the local building code requires engineering/architectural plans be provided. However, RenoFi reserves the right to require plans and specs for review on a case-by-case basis for all RenoFi loans.
  4. Renderings: Although not required for RenoFi’s analysis specifically, these types of renovation-specific documents available to you is very helpful to the process.

And What Does a Good Contractor Estimate Entail?

And when it comes to a project estimate, the more information you know, the better. There are not only specific requirements for what we consider a “good” submission when applying for a RenoFi loan, but also to minimize the chance of any unwanted surprises for you throughout the process too. Here are some tips for what makes a good project estimate:

  • It breaks down specific materials and labor needed with notes as to what home elements will stay the same, what isn’t included, and what may add to the overall costs.
  • It provides all itemized costs for each aspect of the renovation.
  • It includes floor plans, ideally with layout and dimensions to show full scale.
  • It’s usually typed — it’s just easier.

For more help with choosing the right contractor, establishing a project budget that works for you or getting everything you need from your contractor to apply for a loan, contact RenoFi today.

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